It’s been almost seven years since John Wilson vowed to become more active in school board issues.
In December, 2002, in his capacity as Elgin county warden, Wilson nearly blew a gasket when London trustee Joyce Bennett was re-elected as chairman of the Thames Valley District School Board.
The move effectively ended an accepted practice whereby each chairman served a one-year term and the position alternated between a London trustee and a representative from either Elgin, Oxford or Middlesex county.
“We don’t intend to stand idly by and have our communities torn apart simply because of someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on within the communities,” Wilson told the Times-Journal at the time.
He inferred the London trustees had no comprehension of the impact of school closings in the counties, including the threat in 2002 of the possible closing of Springfield Public School.
The threat of rural school closings prompted Wilson to put forth a resolution to Elgin county council in January, 2003, that called upon the minister of education to conduct an immediate review of the size and composition of the TVDSB.
That resolution quickly gained support elsewhere in southwestern Ontario as the spectre of school closings in smaller communities proved a concern.
“It’s a school board issue, but what you have to keep in mind is that we all represent the same people,” Wilson stressed to the T-J.
“If you want to upset people, just have bad roads or poor drains or do something with the school system that is going to affect their children and their communities and you’ll find out just how protective people become.”
Wilson’s passion hasn’t diminished one iota and he must be gratified that his grassroots resolution has evolved into the Community Schools Alliance, which held its inaugural meeting last week during the Association of Municipalities conference in Ottawa.
He serves on the executive committee of the alliance which attracted more than 200 municipal leaders to the meeting who got the message loud and clear — the time has come for the ministry of education to understand the continued loss of educational infrastructure in smaller communities is not acceptable and the time has come for a moratorium on school closures.
In hindsight, Wilson’s 2002 outburst impacted far beyond the confines of Elgin county.
MENTAL HEALTH NIGHTMARE
Earlier this summer, City Scope delved into the state of mental health care in St. Thomas and Elgin via a two-part interview with James Mendonca, who retired in 2003 as director of Crisis and Relapse Prevention Service (CRPS) based at Regional Mental Health Care, St. Thomas.
Mendonca warned proposed funding cuts in Elgin county are the thin edge of the wedge. Paring back of the outpatient CRPS in St. Thomas, accessible to the public and physicians for the past 34 years, is another tragic example of a funding bias on the part of the province, he advised.
Speaking with this corner, Mendonca explained the crisis portion of the service housed at Regional Mental Health Care, St. Thomas will soon be eliminated and crisis calls will then be fielded by the local Canadian Mental Health Association office, resulting in a fragmented service in lieu of the multi-disciplinary integrated service that has admirably served St. Thomas and Elgin residents for more than 30 years.
Now, in a letter that appeared in the T-J earlier this week, Dr. J.J. Kaufman, former director of St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital, delves further into “the abandonment of the mentally ill.”
Writing of the atmosphere that used to prevail in St. Thomas, and at similar institutions across the country, Kaufman notes, “The professional teams of the hospital were well trained and inspired by a true sense of affection and respect for their patients.
“The spirit of goodwill,” he continues, “camaraderie and optimism pervaded the entire facility. The goal was optimum patient care and treatment and it was both a pleasure and an honour to work there.”
Today, suggests Kaufman, we are at risk of regressing into the dark ages of mental health care.
“The nightmare that has replaced this patient-oriented service is all to evident on our city streets, in alleys and in slums. Today, there are few psychiatric services in the community. They have too few beds and offer only short-term treatment.”
So, explained Mendonca, what appear to be good-news mental health funding announcements (as evidenced by news in November, 2008 of a $900,000 investment by the province to proceed with planning for a 15-bed mental health unit in St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital) are nothing more than the province “putting money into the community just to serve schizophrenia and serious psychoses,” afflictions which affect, at most, two per cent of the population.
“Those with depressive and anxiety disorders,” Mendonca pointed out , “which represent at least 15 per cent of the general population, are deprived of funded services for evidence-based treatment and relapse prevention.
“Lower-income families with anxiety and depressive disorders who have emergencies are going to get a fragmented service,” he explains.
What Kaufman refers to as “an unconscionable retrogressive step.”
The need to deal with health issues has forced Central Elgin Mayor Sylvia Hofhuis to embark on an indefinite leave of absence. In a conversation with the T-J this week, she was hopeful of a return to duties by the end of next month, once specialists ascertain the nature of her medical concerns.
City Scope offers best wishes to Hofhuis and the hope she returns to the political arena in expedient fashion.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“In our enlightened 21st century, the neglect and even the horrors of the 18th century Bedlam have been reintroduced.”
In a letter to the Times-Journal, Dr. J.J. Kaufman, former director at St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital, warns the threatened closure of mental health facilities in Elgin and elsewhere in the province is “an unconscionable retrogressive step and an immeasurable loss to society.”
City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: